We didn’t expect to stop in California but we saw a sign, literally, that put Sacramento onto our trip itinerary. We were driving along I5 when we saw a billboard advertising that the Western States Horse Expo at the Cal Expo center would be in Sacramento the next day. We made a last minute decision to go to Sacramento for the night to attend the Expo. This would give me a chance to see a number of different horse breeds and talk with horse breeders, riders, and experts about what it really means to own a horse.
We went for the first day of the Expo and I attended a couple of seminars but the best part of the day was talking with the exhibitors at the Breed Revelation. I heard first hand from the breeders and owners about the characteristics of the specific breeds and why they chose their breed of preference. Before the Expo I was only familiar with the Quarter Horse, Clydesdale, Mules, Arabians and Mustangs but here I had a chance to see some new breeds that I’ve never heard of like the Halflinger, Gypsy Vanner, Percheron, Peruvian Paso and Tennessee Walking Horse.
Here are some photos of the above breeds that were taken during their breed show events.
There was an event called the Ultimate Super Horse where riders went through a series of challenges that were unfamiliar to the horse. The rider would demonstrate their control over the horse and the successful horse would navigate these challenges with little or no resistance. Below are a few photos of these challenges. Some examples of challenges not pictured include where a person with a bicycle would run with the bike weaving next to the horse and rider and another where a person dressed as a hiker would walk out in front of the horse waving their hat and making a wide gestures in front of the horse and rider. All of the riders that we saw made it through the stations but some horses were more hesitant than others to go through them all.
Later in the day we watched the draft horses in action pulling wagons either individually or as teams. The Percherons were my favorites! Here is a video of a team of six galloping through the arena.
At the end of the day we spent some time talking with Lynn of the Gypsy Rose Ranch. The Gypsy Vanner captured my interest so much that I made plans with the breeder to stop by her ranch in Lodi, CA on our way through California later in the month.
We only spent one day in Yosemite on this trip but we have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend many, many days in Yosemite over the years. Living in the Bay Area we were only about 4 hours from the park and we took advantage of the proximity to this valley. One of our first trips to Yosemite was to climb Half Dome during a full moon. That was an experience we’ll never forget. From the top of Half Dome we could see flickering embers of distant controlled burns and the valley glowed with the moonlit granite monoliths. It is one of my favorite memories of Yosemite. Our other favorite times to visit the valley is after a snow during Christmas or Thanksgiving when there are only a handful of tourists around. The park is transformed by the snow making it feel like your own little winter wonderland.
On this visit we arrived just before midnight during the height of the tourist season which also meant that there were no campsites available. We didn’t have any reservations and the only place to stay in the valley was at Housekeeping Camp which was our most expensive campsite of the whole trip for a slab of cement, three walls covered by a tarp and a cot with no bedding to sleep on. It was the last place that I wanted to stay given that a few people contracted hantavirus from the accommodations. It’s a deadly virus spread by mouse droppings. I didn’t sleep well that night with dreams filled of mice climbing the walls and crawling on me.
We spent our day in the valley visiting Yosemite Falls and walking up to Lower Yosemite Falls. We watched a few people jumping off the bridge into the Merced River then relaxed near El Capitan. I was able to put my new binoculars to use by spotting climbers inching their way up the massive granite face. We’re pretty happy with the binoculars which I purchased at REI. I wanted something of a reasonable size that I could take on our hikes in Alaska in the hopes that I can spot some wildlife at a safe distance. We settled on the Nikon Monarch M511 8×42.
We left our favorite valley sometime in the late afternoon continuing toward Oregon via Sacramento, CA to Ashland, OR.
After picking up my license from Crowley Lake we went back north to Mono Lake. This is just north of the junction of 120 and 395. It’s one of the bluest lakes that I’ve ever seen. Set against the backdrop of the barren eastern sierra makes the blues of the lake pop. Along its edges are tufas which are made of calcium-carbonate crusts.
There are brine shrimp and alkali flies that birds feast on during their transcontinental migration along the great flyway. It’s a magnet for photographers who arrive by the van loads to capture the landscape in the softer evening light. We left at about the time they arrived and didn’t capture the sunset. We still had a lot of driving ahead of us to get to Yosemite Valley and we still had to stop for dinner. Our time at Mono Lake was short but as always, it was a lovely way to spend the late afternoon.
After Bishop we started our drive north on 395 toward Bodie. The plan was to buy me an annual fishing license since I purchased only a day license earlier. Darryl already had an annual one knowing that he would want to fish later in the trip. After Crowley we would spend the night on the BLM land outside Mammoth. We stopped at Lake Crowley just long enough to purchase the license and take a few photos.
We camped a few nights on the BLM land outside Mammoth last December during our trip to visit the hot springs. There are about 5 hot springs in the area and we visited all of them during that earlier trip. The hot springs didn’t sound as appealing in 100+ degree weather so we skipped them on this stop. The area is a popular place for campers considering the popularity of the hot springs which can get a little crowded at times but the views make it well worth it.
This evening we were treated to a beautiful sunset with rainbows and storm clouds that threatened rain but never delivered.
The next day we stopped into Mammoth for breakfast then did laundry. After our morning of errands which included laundry and buying me my fishing pole and lures we found a little fishing spot along the Mammoth Creek so Darryl could give me a spinning lesson with my new pole. I managed to catch the weeds right next to me, the bushes across the river and a tree and then a brown trout! It was only abut 4 inches long so we tossed it back into the river to continue its journey.
After my fishing lesson we went to Bodie. We love this ghost town having visited it once before almost 15 years ago. We overheard a waitress describing Bodie to a customer a few nights earlier saying that it’s kinda boring and if you go, you might stay for about 20-30 minutes. Well, we were there for almost four hours! If you like history and taking photos of interesting scenery with beautiful backdrops, this is the place for you. If you don’t like that sort of thing then maybe skip this side trip. Bodie is a typical gold rush era town growing from a handful of people to over 10,000 in just one year. There were some interesting characters that lived here back in the day. The town’s reputation for lawlessness is evident from this quote from a child’s diary after learning she was moving to Bodie; “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie.”Evidently the law did rule the business relationships when James Cain sued Standard Mine, the largest gold mining company in town, for drilling on his mine. He won the lawsuit and ended up owning the trespassing company when the resulting fines broke them.
You won’t find any services at Bodie except for a few porta potties. The state park service maintains the town in a “state of arrested decay” which I think means that they do the bare minimum to preserve the town’s structures. There are quite a few tourists that come through but not so many that they obstruct the photographs. It’s only about 30 minutes north of Mono Lake off of Hwy 395 up a well maintained dirt road. We recommend taking the time to make a short side trip if you like this sort of thing.
On our way back from Bodie I noticed that I forgot my drivers license at Crowley Lake. So instead of camping at Mono Lake we headed back down to Bishop so that I could pick up my license the next morning. It’s a good thing we don’t have a set schedule!
Now that we arrived in California, our next destination was Bishop, CA. We heard that Bishop was a nice town in the Eastern Sierra popular for its fly fishing and hot springs among other activities. We decided to stop through there on our way to Mono Lake, Bodie and Yosemite. Bishop is a small town with a lot of character and we fell in love with it! Our quick drive-by became a 5 day layover. Mammoth is a small town of about 8,000 people. The town lies within the Owen’s River Valley backed up against the mountains with nearby Mt. Whitney. Just the sort of place to spend a few days to get to know its character and the perfect spot for us to explore some new hobbies.
Photography is one of Darryl’s interests and he was familiar with the work of the late Galen and Barbara Rowell. Their studio is Mountain Light Photography gallery located in Bishop. They were able to capture moments that the majority of us with cameras never see. There were stories alongside many of the photographs explaining how the photo was composed, the time of day and the inspiration. These photos didn’t come by chance, they were planned and their patience paid off. They traveled the world for their photography and we’re looking forward to seeing many of these places along our own journey.
Our time in Bishop turned into an experience of personal discovery for us where we indulged in our personal interests one of which is fly fishing. During the past year we started looking into the sport and in the fall of 2013, we spent a day with the late Bill Lowe of Sacramento, California. He was a fly fishing guide and a wonderful teacher of the sport. We had a great time on the American River where Bill taught us the fundamentals of fly fishing, casting, how to read the currents and a basic intro to entymology. The day piqued our interest enough to purchase the gear and put our very basic skills to the test as we travel.
Our next stop in Bishop was at the local fly shop to get recommendations for fly fishing guides in the area. We were fortunate to find Beryl Rhea of The Trout Scout and she was able to fit us into her schedule at the last minute. She took us up to Upper Intake 2 along Hwy 168 for an afternoon of fly fishing. I loved it! I even caught a few fish! Mine were small brown trout and rainbow trout but Darryl managed to catch a respectable size rainbow of about 4 pounds! We left all of our fish in the lake but came away from the afternoon with a heightened interest in learning more about this sport. We hope to have many more opportunities to practice fly fishing but we bought spinning reels if we actually want to have something to eat for dinner. 🙂
In the spirit of exploring our interests, Darryl encouraged me to call on one of the many horse trainers in the area. Like many little girls, I was obsessed with horses when I was growing up. My dream was always to own a horse but I never pursued this dream. I had lots of excuses for not doing so like too much work and not enough time. Darryl pointed out that I don’t have these excuses anymore so why not reach out to really learn about what it means to be a horsewoman? I found a horse trainer, Linda of the Double L Ranch, and gave her a call fully expecting that she wouldn’t have time to answer my silly questions. To my surprise, she spoke with me for almost 20 minutes giving me some advice on how to pursue this dream while traveling! She also introduced me to the idea of owning a mule instead of a horse. I have never heard of such a thing and learned that mules are 15x smarter than a horse and are more sure-footed than horses on the trails. Mules also tend to establish a stronger bond with their owner than a horse does. This was all very intriguing to me.
We stopped by the Double L Ranch to see if she had time in the next couple of days to give me a riding lesson. She had time right then but I didn’t have the proper boots to wear. So instead, she spent the afternoon showing me how to groom and tack a horse and then had us stay to watch a riding lesson. She walked us through the basics of what she was looking for and what she was asking of the rider. It was a wonderful introduction into this world! But I really wanted to get onto a mule so she sent me to the local horse riding outfitter to buy some proper boots to wear and agreed to give me a lesson the following day. Here are some photos from the ranch.
The next day I arrived ready to start my lesson and Linda introduced me to Max, their champion mule. We thought that I would have a chance to ride him but he wasn’t very interested in being led to the riding area. Since this is uncommon behavior for him, Linda looked him over very closely and found that he had a sore on the back of his leg so we put him back and pulled out Jazz, a chestnut quarter horse.
After our time at the Double L Ranch we drove up into the mountains to cool off. We stopped to enjoy the view at Lake Sabrina.
Before leaving Bishop, we drove through Fish Slough to find the petroglyphs that we heard were out there. Darryl read about them but it was difficult to find any information on their exact location. It seems that there has been much vandalism to the petroglyphs. Vandals have written over them while others stole some of the pieces and in the process they destroyed some of the panels. He did find the coordinates for the petroglyphs which were on the main road out to Fish Slough.
We had a wonderful time in Bishop and look forward to returning sometime soon after our trip. If you get a chance to go, check out the Burger Barn! We ate there twice while in town. The menu is a riff on the plain burger with dozens of options for your toppings. They get the fundamentals right starting with fresh food sourced locally and prepared well. It wasn’t anything fancy but oftentimes I find that fancy is overpriced and they under deliver. This place makes a reasonably priced meal that tastes great.
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” Maya Angelou at York College on February 4, 2013 found at WikiQuote – http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Maya_Angelou
Every single mile of our drive to Bryce National Park was beautiful. It was perhaps the most scenic drive of our tour through Utah’s Grand Circle. We drove along Hwy 12 to Escalante then to Henrieville and on to Bryce Canyon City. There were beautiful valleys throughout with many places along the way to camp or B&B’s for those that prefer a less rustic experience.
When we arrived at Bryce we heard the news of Maya Angelou’s passing. For us it was a day of exploring Bryce Canyon’s natural beauty while reflecting upon the amazing journey of Maya Angelou’s life. It was a wonderful way to celebrate a life well lived.
Our first visit to Bryce was in the spring of 2008. There was still snow on the ground and the winter chill was still in the air. We didn’t spend much time hiking so I was looking forward to exploring the canyons of Bryce.
We spent the day stopping at all of the scenic overlooks. The view points were crowded with tourists but the views were spectacular.
There was a raven with a crowd of admirers begging for food at one of the viewpoints. The bird had no fear of people. When a car pulled in the raven would fly to the front grill of the car to pick out whatever he could find there. Tourists happily feed the wildlife without realizing the harm to the animals making them dependent on unhealthy human food. They lose the interest in hunting and teach their young the same behavior.
The following day we hiked into the canyon along the Fairyland Trail. The hoodoos looked like fairy castles. The views captured my imagination and looked like a magical land of fairies that I dreamed of as a child.
After our hike we went to our first rodeo. It was the Bryce Canyon Country Rodeo at Bryce Canyon City. This is an interesting little town that appears to be owned by one company, Ruby’s Inn. Everything that we saw was a Ruby’s Inn property. The town is just a few miles outside of Bryce National Park and has a monopoly on the tourism coming through the area. We’ve never seen anything quite like this company town.
After Bryce we drove to Las Vegas along Zion-Kolob Road which winds through part of northern Zion. Rosemary and Bill who we met in Zion recommended this backroad. It was a beautiful road and made for a beautiful day trip to Las Vegas.
“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” Maya Angelou
We only spent a day driving through Capitol Reef National Park but it was a beautiful drive. We forgot that we came through this little visited national park in 2008 during our drive to Moab from San Jose, CA. We did much of the “Grand Circle” loop in 2008. Our version then included Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. This time around we added the national monuments within the Navajo Nation (Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly and Navajo National Monument). We missed seeing the Grand Canyon in both tours.
From Moab we took 191 north to 70 west then 24 west into Capitol Reef. The drive gets interesting once you turn onto Hwy 24; before that it’s fairly barren. Capitol Reef is a fairly small park and very narrow. There are some interesting petroglyphs on the way into the visitor center.
This time through, we decided to take our time and drive the Notom-Bullfrog Road through the park which runs along the Waterpocket Fold. This is an almost 100 mile warp in the Earth’s crust created between 50-70 million years ago. It amazes me how geologists are able to think about time of this magnitude and decipher the events that caused the features that we see today. I won’t try to go into any more detail about the “how” of the geology but I will share with you the resulting beauty!
We found a nice place to camp in the Grand Escalante-Staircase BLM land which borders the western side of Capitol Reef. It was a beautiful spot for us to spend the night.
While on our evening stroll through the area we surprised a horned toad. It jumped out of its hiding place across the path ahead of us. Although I saw where it settled in along the path I could barely see it. Can you find it in this photo?
We had a relatively uneventful day at the Moab Art & Wine Festival then picked up groceries and went to set up camp again at Sand Flats in Moab, Utah. Our campsite gave us a front row seat at the 4×4’s passing through the Fins & Things trail. After dinner, we decided to take a walk along the trail to see just how technical it was and watch how the other vehicles handled the terrain. Darryl and I were walking through a section that, to me, looked impossible for any truck to climb but with all of the rubber on the rocks, it was obvious that I was wrong.
Pretty soon a Tacoma and a Jeep came through the section to show me how it’s done. I took some video of them clearing this section. I watched them do it once and then I asked if they would go back and do it again so that I could record it. They were more than happy to oblige. They made it look easy! There were a couple of kids in the back of the pickup that were giggling the whole way through. You can hear them in this clip.Tacoma
The next day we set out for a drive through the La Sal mountains. It was threatening to rain all day but made our day in the mountains even more beautiful. We took 191 south out of town to 46 east. We took the forest roads through the mountains (FR028 to FR0073) toward the La Sal summit. One of the draws to the Moab area is the variety of topography within a short distance. You have the desert, rivers, canyons, arches and mountains all within an hour’s drive. And this day would be all about mountains, forests, aspen and snow. It was a welcome change to the past couple of months.
After a long day in the mountains we decided to take the night off from camp food and ate out at the Moab Brewery then returned to our campsite at Sand Flats.
The next day we decided to rent a UTV (Utility Task Vehicle) and take it on Hell’s Revenge trail. It would be a fun way to experience these 4×4 trails without putting our vehicle at risk. It’s the only home we have for now and I preferred to keep it safe from a potential roll-over. 🙂 We opted for the T-Rex 4×4 Tour with the Moab Tourism Center. The tour was on a Kawasaki Teryx 4 and we were able to drive it ourselves. The tour wasn’t until early evening so we set out to get a little cardio workout at the Amasa Trails along Kane Creek that we saw earlier in the week.
The run was challenging given that we haven’t been working out regularly but the views were beautiful. There were quite a few people out with their 4×4 vehicles. They were of all makes and sizes.
There was a very ledgy section of trail at the finish of our run that we had to walk up. During the last couple of miles of the run, we would cross paths with a group of 4×4 trucks that were on the 4×4 section of the trail. They were taking awhile to get through the trails but we were hoping that we would see them drive this ledgy section which, to my inexperienced eye, looked impossible to clear in any vehicle. Sure enough, about 10 minutes after we finished our run we saw the vehicles approaching!
The first vehicle made it look pretty easy to climb. Some of the others had a little more difficulty.
After we watched all of the vehicles clear the section we had to get going to make it to our TRex 4×4 tour along the Hell’s Revenge Trail. We thought that we would each get our own UTV but found out that it was one UTV for two drivers. Darryl did most of the driving and then I got in on the fun about halfway through. These little machines can go up practically anything! It was such a fun trip riding along the slick rock trails and getting out to sections of trail that I wasn’t able to see on our mountain bikes when we did Slick Rock trail. We had a blast and would recommend a tour like this if you make the trip to Moab.
After our UTV tour we had dinner at the Moab Diner then went back to Sand Flats and called it a night. This was our last night in Moab. It’s a wonderful little town which never disappoints us. It’s one of the towns on our list of places to move to after our trip. We spent some of our time here looking at the neighborhoods and talking with the locals about the culture. The housing prices were reasonable but then again, I think that after living in the Bay Area, most anyplace would seem reasonable! We love the outdoor activities and the weather is ok most of the year. The summers can get pretty hot! It will be a tough choice for us when it comes down to selecting our new home but it’s nice to know that there are some great options to choose from like Moab.
Canyonlands National Park consists of four districts; The Maze, Islands in the Sky, Needles and Horshoe. Only two of them, Needles and Islands in the Sky, are accessible by 2WD vehicles. These are the two that we visited. The others are fairly remote and require a few days to travel to them. Someday we want to visit the Horseshoe district to see the Great Gallery rock art panel where there are life size pictographs.
The Needles district is very distinct from Islands in the Sky district. It is green with vast valleys covered in grass and wild flowers with expansive views of distant rock formations and mountains. We were here in late May during an unusually wet and cool year so our experience may be out of the norm. Given all of our crazy weather patterns perhaps unusual weather patterns are the new normal!
Driving into Needles along State Route 211 you pass a massive rock known as Newspaper Rock. It’s a 200 sqft rock that exhibits one of the largest and best preserved group of petroglyphs in the Southwest.
We took our time driving into Needles, stopping for many photo ops along the way. We were absolutely stunned by the beauty of the place. I’m not sure we would have stopped here if it had not been for the recommendation of Rosemary and Bill who we met in Zion. These tips from fellow travelers have led us to many beautiful spots that we would not have discovered on our own.
We had a quick lunch at Canyonlands Needles Outpost which is privately owned and just outside the park boundary only a few miles before the fee station. There is not any food within the park so this is your only option. Given the remoteness, they have a surprisingly wide variety of food stocked on their shelves and a decent grill / sandwich menu.
Our first stop after the visitor’s center was Elephant Hill. The parking area was very crowded with about 50-60 cars filling all of the spots. This was the most crowded spot in the park due to the density of trailheads starting from this point. Once you started walking along your chosen path the number of people thinned out quickly.
We took a walk along Cave Spring Trail which included pictographs, a historic cowboy camp and a couple of wooden ladders along the trail’s route. The ladders were actually part of the trail.
Our other stops throughout the park included the “Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook”, “Pothole Point” and “Big Spring Canyon Overlook”.
The best part of the trip came at the end of the day when we decided to take the seven mile dirt road from the visitor center out to the Colorado River Overlook. The views from this road were stunning and we crossed paths with only one other vehicle and two hikers. We stopped to talk with the hikers to see if they were ok since they looked pretty worn out and shaky. They were six days into their hike; and for the past three days their only water supply was from muddy puddles. We loaded them up with four gallons of water which really perked them up!
We came up a mile short of the overlook. Time was against us and the trail toward the end was taking us a long time to get through. Although we didn’t make it to the end the views alone were worth the trip. For my part, I continued to gain confidence in our vehicle and in myself along the way. I’m pretty sure that the two hikers we met were glad we came down this route as well!
We returned to Canyonlands to complete our tour of the sights along the canyon rim. Our first stop was at the Shafer Canyon overlook where we had a great view of the trail that we drove the day before.
After Canyonlands, we went into town for lunch and then out Kane Creek Road to check out their 4×4 routes. Although we have visited Moab many times in the past, this was our first time on the trails along Kane Creek Road. From 190 in Moab, turn west onto Kane Creek Road (there is a McDonald’s at the intersection) and the road will eventually run along the eastern side of the Colorado River and then branches off into the canyons. There are campgrounds along the way and eventually you’ll hit the Amasa Back trailhead. We took special note of this area for a future run! We continued along until we came across the sign for the Kane Creek 4×4 trails.
After our reconnaissance of Kane Creek, we went back into town for a late lunch then out to find ourselves a place to spend the night. We opted for Sand Flats Recreation Area which is in town. It’s where the popular “Slick Rock” trails are located. We found perhaps the last site that was available which was at the entrance of “Fins & Things” 4×4 trail. The next morning we learned why the site was still available since it’s at the start of a very popular route and these people like to get out on the trail early!
After our breakfast we started out to Kane Creek for our own 4×4 expedition. Darryl was patient with me as we walked through the more technical sections and discussed how we would drive through them. I actually stayed in the vehicle for most of the sections but I did get out to take some photos of the action.
Darryl’s patience paid off since I got into the driver’s seat on the return and drove us back most of the way with Darryl standing on the road guiding me through the rougher sections. There was a point where I had just one front and one rear tire in the air sitting at a precarious angle. Our FJ is AWESOME! Although I was at a pretty steep angle, the FJ felt solid and I felt completely confident in its ability to get me through the section. No photos of this, you’ll just have to believe me.
On our return, we stopped at the petroglyphs and snapped a few photos. What an awesome day!